David Cameron considers diverting foreign aid

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo by: Department for International Development / CC BY

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is sure to gain critics for a new suggestion to use some U.K. aid money for defense and security purposes. Just last month, aid groups blasted a conservative think tank for even suggesting that a third of U.K. aid be diverted to the military.

Cameron hinted at the idea of sharing part of the U.K. Department for International Development’s budget with the Ministry of Defense during a visit in India, where he was accompanied by a delegation of more than 100 business leaders in a bid to spur trade and investments between the two countries. The visit follows the United Kingdom’s decision to shift its focus in the Asian country from aid to trade.

“We have to demonstrate that the DfID budget is used wisely,” Cameron said. “DfID, the Foreign Office and the defence ministry work incredibly closely together. If you are asking can they work even more closely together to make sure that the funds we have at our disposal are used to provide basic levels of security in deeply broken and fragile states, then yes, we should.”

Cameron’s statement could be a way to gain support from conservative lawmakers for the country’s overseas aid budget, which the government has ringfenced to meet the U.N. target for donors to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national income on development cooperation. Several lawmakers have been calling against further cuts to the country’s defense budget.

The aid community, not surprisingly, has been against such the diversion of funding toward peacekeeping and similar operations, especially if it means a reduced budget for humanitarian and development aid.

“Diverting U.K. aid into defense spending and the Foreign Office would be more likely to reduce the effectiveness of our aid,” U.K. Aid Network Coordinator Amy Dodd told Devex in January, in response to that Civitas report that called on the United Kingdom to divert some aid to the Ministry of Defense.

A Downing Street aide told The Guardian the government will not use the money to buy weapons, such as tanks. Under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s rules, military equipment and services as well as anti-terrorism activities are not counted as overseas development assistance. But spending on areas such as “closely-defined developmentally relevant activities within peacekeeping operations” and “police training” could be reported as ODA.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.